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Violent clashes between fans, police mar start of season in Russia

Mark Ogden discusses the uncertainties surrounding stadiums such as Fisht Stadium in Sochi ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

A series of fan incidents, including clashes with police, have tarnished the start of the season in the Russian Premier League.

After the well-organised FIFA Confederations Cup went on without much trouble earlier this summer, the league season has seen fights between fans inside and outside football grounds, racial abuse and violent police action since the day it kicked off on July 15.

Even players have been the target over the past month. First, injured Spartak Moscow midfielder Roman Zobnin was confronted by Dinamo Moscow fans who broke into the VIP section during a derby game on July 18, seeking revenge for their former player's move to the club's arch-rivals.

Last Sunday, former Russia striker Aleksandr Panov, once a national hero after scoring the winning goal in the Euro 2000 qualifier at Stade de France, was attacked before the Zenit-Spartak Moscow match in St.  Petersburg.

Until Russian police speical forces (OMON) intervened, fans punched Panov and threw coins at him. They were angry because he had recognised himself as a Spartak supporter, despite being born in St. Petersburg and having more than a hundred matches and dozens of goals for Zenit under his belt.

A couple of hours later, police used batons in a clash with Spartak fans who had been playing with a fire hose.

A week earlier, the same St. Petersburg police forces entered the stands during the league match between Tosno and Zenit, with the official reason stated that the fans were using firecrackers.

A Zenit fan holds a flare after lighting a Spartak scarf on fire last week.

Asked if such actions are appropriate, the Russian Football Premier League security officer Aleksandr Meytin responded positively.

"It surely is," he told ESPN FC. "If there's any risk for life or health of the fans, or if those who misbehave take a stand against the police, then yes, it's OK to apply force.

"Unfortunately, we're still unable to detain all hooligans involved in various incidents, as even CCTV cameras cannot always spot all hooligans who tend to blend in with the crowd.

"But we desperately want to start using the great experience of the Confederations Cup, and introduce Fan IDs which will help easier identify all people attending stadiums."

Meagre fines from the Russian Football Union have not proven enough to counteract the issue. Dinamo Moscow were fined 425,000 rubles ($7,000) after their fans fought in the stands with Spartak supporters during the game, set off firecrackers and taunted their opponents' black players.

A senior official working for Dinamo Moscow said he believes the current atmosphere could be much worse, and that some violence is to be expected.

"Of course, when Dinamo play Spartak it's always a risk, and police did great to prevent bigger incidents," he told ESPN FC on the condition of anonymity. "Don't look for a black cat in a dark room.

"The match was more than a success for such a high-profile match. You just have to understand that a likelihood to be punched in the face at a derby game is far bigger than average."

Artur Petrosyan is a Russian journalist based in Moscow. Twitter: @arturpetrosyan

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